A successful recipe
Letter from James
It has been a huge year. We knew that demonstrating a proof of concept for an urban eradication wouldn’t be easy. We expected to face challenges, and potentially setbacks - but we also knew we had the right team in place - including the thousands of Miramar Peninsula residents on our side.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Covid 19 and acknowledge the profound impact it has had on many, many people, businesses and families. It has certainly been a challenging and uncertain time.
In terms of Predator Free Wellington, we had to leave the project area for seven weeks at a critical stage of the eradication. Evidently, rats are not concerned with lockdowns and once we could get back out on to the peninsula, we had lost ground to make up for. That said, what was perhaps most astounding to me was the community’s shared commitment to the success of the project.
Miramar residents stepped up to the plate. We put out a call for them to let us know what was happening with the traps, bait stations and monitoring equipment on people’s properties so we knew exactly where we needed to pick up from – and they did. We were astounded by the hundreds of messages coming in to let us know what was happening with the eradication grid.
With the city falling silent from the usual city noise, we welcomed a new cacophony of sound and visual splendor as nature made its presence felt. We received photos of all sorts of incredible things including kārearea keeping a sentinel watch over city streets as well as kākā and kākāriki on Miramar Peninsula for the first time!
Covid 19 has also provided us with some unanticipated opportunities through the learning and success of the Miramar eradication operation.
Predator Free Wellington was successful in obtaining additional funding via Predator Free 2050 Ltd through the Government’s Jobs for Nature economic stimulus package. This means we can scale up our operations and move faster than we had initially planned.
It also means more Wellingtonians in jobs, more connected communities contributing to a shared vision, and of course thriving native species. This additional funding is a fantastic acknowledgement of the collective impact achieved to date and the results achieved.
We are trying to achieve something that has never been done before and it is certainly challenging, but it has also been an incredibly humbling journey to see what can be delivered when a huge collective of people join together.
As we look to complete the Miramar operation, we are also gearing up for phase two of the project. This will see us expand from the coast at Island Bay through to the CBD and Wellington Harbour and we are amped to get going!!
Thank you to all of our partners, sponsors, local businesses, supporters and committed Wellingtonians who are on this journey with us - we certainly couldn’t be where we are without you – huge respect and gratitude!
— James Willcocks, Project Director
Volunteer trappers making huge impact
There is no doubt that the foundation of our success on the Miramar Peninsula is our volunteer trapping community, both on the peninsula and across Wellington.
Before we started the eradication in July last year, community trappers from Predator Free Miramar, Forest & Bird Places for Penguins and Te Motu Kairangi Ecological Restoration Group had already caught over 10,000 pests and had a network of over 1,500 traps across the peninsula.
This was a massive head start! For the operation it meant there were at least 5,000 fewer rats we had to catch. It also meant we already had a community that knew the benefits of predator free mahi and could help us spread the word and gain the support we needed from the 20,000 Miramar Peninsula residents.
The impact went further. Interestingly, when comparing heat maps a few months into the eradication, there was a direct correlation between gaps in the volunteer trapping network and the hot spots we were seeing with increased bait take (see image below).
The work of the volunteer trappers didn’t stop when we started our eradication - they have been critical throughout the journey. Led by Dan Henry, the Predator Free Miramar volunteer trappers have now shifted from individuals checking their own backyard traps and reserve trap lines to an awesome team of committed volunteers who are managing the operation for us at the northern end of the peninsula. This involves more than a hundred hectares. They’re checking traps, baiting, monitoring, reporting - and of course meeting up afterwards for the all important social drink to discuss the results. Operationally, this means our team can focus on the urban hot spots and the camera monitoring to declare more zones rat free.
As we look to begin phase 2, Island Bay to CBD - we have another big challenge ahead. Our next phase is almost 1.5 times the size of the Miramar Peninsula eradication. Whilst the challenge is bigger, we have a head start again. There are eight volunteer groups that together have already caught more than 18,000 pests and have a network of over 3,000 traps in backyards and reserves.
“There’s a real sense of ownership of the project among these committed people, getting out of bed early every Sunday morning.
They’re doing this not because they’re being paid or because they have to, but because it’s become hugely important to them, and because they enjoy it! How cool is that?!”
Dan Henry, Predator Free Miramar community lead
We estimate there are around 20,000 households in Wellington trapping in their backyards and reserves. They do this voluntarily, and one backyard connects with other backyards and city green spaces to build wildlife corridors and contiguous habitats.
The community is the strength of the Predator Free Wellington movement. It’s all about the people.
suburbs, covering 8,000 hectares
(+1 suburb this year)
(+4,203 traps this year)
(+8669 catches this year)
The spectacular return of native birds to Wellington continues to intensify. More than half of birds in Wellington forest reserves are now native and we are protecting more birds that are classified as ‘nationally threatened’ or ‘at risk’. These birds now make up a quarter of the diversity of our bird population in Wellington. This is good news, it means that vulnerable bird populations that have been translocated into Zealandia are spreading out across Wellington.
The significant increase of tūī, kākā and kākāriki across the city indicates that the improvements in the intensity and spatial coverage of predator control beyond Zealandia has benefitted these birds.
Tīeke are largely restricted to Zealandia and forest reserves less than 1-2 km from the pest-proof fence. The research indicates the 250% increase in tīeke recorded in these areas since 2011 is likely to be a result of ongoing improvements in the mammalian predator control being carried out in forest reserves adjacent to Zealandia.
Kākāriki have also increased significantly since 2011 from very low numbers. They are sparsely distributed throughout Wellington City, in both native forest and suburban habitats and have increased more than seven-fold (about 750%). Beyond Zealandia, kākāriki are now established in Wrights Hill Reserve, Otari-Wilton Bush, Khandallah Park, Huntleigh Park and possibly also the Wellington Botanic Gardens.
Additionally, a recent survey of coastal birds in Wellington found the nationally endangered matuku moana (reef heron) breeding on Tapu Te Ranga in Island Bay for the first time in many years. Wellington City Council has been working with local volunteers to increase predator control along the adjacent coastline to protect these special birds and contribute toward the collective effort to realise a Predator Free Wellington.
Increase in kākā
Kākā are now commonly encountered in central Wellington, particularly in the suburbs of Karori, Wadestown, Ngaio, Kelburn, Te Aro and Brooklyn. Kākā are also continuing to extend their range into more northern suburbs such as Johnsonville, and more eastern suburbs such as Miramar. Kākā are estimated to be now three times more prevalent beyond Zealandia than in 2011.
Increase in kererū since 2011.
Kererū have become much more abundant and the research confirms that they are now four times more prolific than in 2011. Kererū are most prevalent in reserves containing original native forest habitat, such as Otari-Wilton Bush and Khandallah Park, but they are also frequently observed in adjacent suburban areas and beyond.
Increase in tui since 2011.
Tūī have cemented their place as the most abundant native bird in Wellington forest reserves and are now widespread and common across the city. Tūī have recently overtaken the small tauhou (silver eye) to take this honour. When recently surveyed, tūī were found to be around twice as prolific than when measured in 2011 (a 180-200% increase). There was only a small resident population in the mid 1990s.
An urban eradication of this size has never been done before in New Zealand. It has involved:
The Predator Free Wellington model is based on the principles of remove and protect, removing target predators and protecting the area with a barrier system to prevent reinvasion before implementing a long-term biosecurity plan.
Miramar was chosen as the first phase of the Predator Free Wellington eradication project as it provides a microcosm of the city, with all different terrains represented - coastal, urban bush, residential, commercial, sports ground and schools. It also has a broad range of socio economic communities, from the wealthiest suburb in the city to one of the most deprived, and a diverse community in terms of ethnicity and religion.
The project was divided into the following areas of work:
Communications and engagement is vital when working in an area in which 20,000 people live, work and play.
The community engagement planning had as much rigour applied to it as our technical plans. It was important to us that the community needed to want this, to understand the role they played, and to trust our approach and our team.
Wellington already had a strong community movement for trapping rats in backyards and reserves. Almost every suburb of the city has a volunteer run predator free group giving out traps to residents and gathering data. This was the starting point for the project, and a survey run leading up to the project showed over 90% support from Wellington residents for the eradication project.
Before we could begin the eradication we needed 3,000 permissions from landowners, residents and businesses to house a bait station or trap on their property. A team of three Engagement and Field Officers (EFO) spent six months visiting residents and businesses, giving them information about the project, and asking them for permission to install and check devices on their property.
The process was very successful with a 99% success rate in securing permissions. This was the result of working closely with the existing local trapping and conservation community to keep them informed and enable them to act as advocates for the project, good communications leading up to the our team’s approach, and investment in their time to build relationships one on one with residents and businesses.
Our technical operation was led by Greater Wellington Regional Council’s biosecurity team. The project employed 26 field staff, with a focus on employing new graduates to train them and give them field experience towards future employment in the industry.
The permissions were the first building blocks of the eradication. The team had managed to negotiate enough permissions to allow them to put out 4853 bait stations and 2875 traps. These devices were to be installed in every nook and cranny of the peninsula - backyards, schools, playing fields, road reserves, shops, businesses, bush areas, the airport, the beach, kindergartens, playgrounds, churches, and gang houses. With this much public support and trust the team had to ensure that the operation was going to be as thorough and safe as it could be.
To target rats a 50 x 50m grid of Protecta Sidekick (ground based) bait stations was used. For mustelids the trapping network consisted of traps on a 100 x 100m grid, at the same points as the bait stations. The traps used were BT200 traps - a replica of the DOC 200 which Predator Free Wellington put through NAWAC testing. The traps were put inside a Weka length double set trap box to ensure their safety of pets and children. The bait stations were secured and traps bolted to the ground, where needed.
The installation of these devices took our team of 26 about 3 weeks. Each bait station was initially loaded with 100g of bait. For 3 weeks this was a non-toxic pre-feed and after this period we switched to Brodifacoum rodent pellets.
Meanwhile the traps were locked open with cable ties and the treadle plate screwed down with pre-feed inside from the start of the project.
The team wanted rats to be able to communicate to other rats about where a potential food source is - ie bait. When the bait take slowed down the traps were baited and set ready to catch.
The challenge was to visit every one of the 8,000 devices in the network weekly over a 6-8 month period.
We heavily invested in the app Trap.NZ to manage data when servicing the devices. In the beginning the app had a few challenges but with continuous work with the developer it got to a stage where it was stable and reliable, not just for our team but any other trapping groups that wanted to use the free app.
Throughout the year the team had to adapt their techniques. One example of this adaptation was when new research was brought out which indicated that rats have a much smaller home range when in an urban environment than previously expected. This meant that the network of bait stations and traps needed to be brought a lot closer together. The teams’ priority was then turned to identifying these small home ranges and adding new devices where there was a gap.
As the operation progressed intensive survivor detection monitoring was regularly carried out using a combination of peanut flavoured wax tags, chew cards impregnated with peanut butter and waxy final brodifacoum blocks. This, combined with analysis of bait take data and the use of cameras and the DOC rat and mustelid dogs, enabled the team to narrow in on individual cells of rats. These were blanketed in an intensive network of devices around each animal that was detected. Cameras have been put out in areas believed to be free of rats to give proof of freedom, and over time areas of the peninsula have been declared rat free.
Crucial to the success of the project was working in close collaboration with partner agencies and local organisations and businesses.
Our collaborators included:
Predator Free Wellington is about system change, demonstrating that in the face of widespread environmental degradation a dedicated collective of people can change the tide.
The project has successfully created a social movement with 50 suburbs undertaking trapping throughout Wellington. The local community within the eradication zone have also played a key part in implementing the project. This has gone beyond just being supportive and allowing the team to operate on their land. As the project moves into the post-eradication biosecurity phase and the field team gradually withdraws, local volunteers are being trained and are taking over servicing of devices and survivor detection.
As for any future eradication project in New Zealand, eventually it will have to be handed back to the community to carry the mantle of eternal vigilance as they learn to live in an environment in which rats, possums and mustelids are no longer expected to be present. We want to be leading the charge in this and create a model for successful community led predator free projects elsewhere.
Despite starting off with a detailed eradication plan which had been peer reviewed by the best in the business, our team had to constantly evolve and change as the project progressed. Examples of these innovations were narrowing rat home ranges down to areas as small as 10mx10m, learning about pre-feeding habits of rats, and overcoming neophobic behaviour by offering up different types of eradication devices. They also refined this recipe with small incremental changes that add up to big differences. Small things like adding peanut butter just above a wax tag to encourage interaction, the choice to bait mustelid traps with peanut butter or not, understanding what type of urban landscapes you will find rats and what areas you don’t.
Over the course of the last year the team have made many discoveries and innovations for an urban eradication, and these have all been documented and the “recipe” made freely available to anyone else who is trying to attempt urban predator eradication. As well as sharing data, our team is regularly providing support and advice for other predator free projects, enabling others to scale up and innovate for the bigger goal of Predator Free 2050.
As predator free off-shore islands reach capacity New Zealand needs to move towards providing safe haven for native wildlife on the mainland and the wider community to move into a kaitiaki role of these taonga. In undertaking an eradication project in a city, Predator Free Wellington has taken a deeply community led and collaborative approach, making biosecurity part of people’s everyday lives and engaging them to play their part. This is a game changer, not just for the country’s predator free ambitions but also for any biosecurity project being undertaken in a place where people live and which has ambitions to hand it back to the community eventually.
The project area includes the rohe for both Taranaki Whānui ki te Upoko o te Ika and Ngāti Toa Rangatira iwi. Predator Free Wellington is working to build strong working relationships with both iwi to ensure partnership opportunities. This begins with iwi representation at the heart of the project - at governance level.
The end goal is that iwi will be involved in the planning of what the landscape might look like beyond predator free. Mana whenua will have certain aspirations around the return of some culturally significant species.
“Miramar Peninsula was the testing ground for us and it’s working.
It’s been amazing to see kākā and kākāriki returning to the peninsula for the first time.”
Daran Ponter, Chair, Greater Wellington Regional Council
The Miramar Peninsula eradication made it clear that there are many social as well as environmental benefits to this project.
We know that predator free mahi is a great catalyst for bringing communities together and helping to build social cohesion and resilience. Surveys have shown that two thirds of Wellingtonians are actively involved in trapping or have done some predator control in the past. There’s something about getting rid of rats that attracts and unifies a wide range of people.
See examples of social outcomes achieved through collaboration below.
“We are witnessing the community coming together, for a common purpose – and in the future that can be applied to solving all sorts of social issues, not just environmental ones.”
Prof Dan Tompkins, Acting CEO of Predator Free 2050 Limited
The short film below tells the story of one of our volunteers, Daryl and his family. If you haven’t seen this documentary then please do.
The short film Rat Man (co-directed and co-produced by Steph Miller and Belle Gwilliam) tells the story of Daryl - a reclusive ex-convict, who turns local hero when his house and local community are overrun by rats.
The secret life of urban rats
Have you ever wondered if the rat you caught in your garden came from your neighbour’s house, or perhaps it visited your favourite reserve down the road? Do you know how far an urban rat travels compared to the average 1-2 hectares home range of a bush rat?
Thanks to Victoria University of Wellington Master’s student Henry Mackenzie we now know a lot more about the behaviour of urban rats and potentially the answers to those questions.
Henry’s research involved safely trapping rats across Wellington and attaching radio tracking collars to the rats. He then marked each rat with platinum blonde hair dye to create a unique pattern of marks that would show up on his infrared motion-activated trail cameras.
Henry went out at different times during the day and night and attempted to triangulate their locations, work out where they were nesting and how large their home ranges are.
Through many months of work, and many 3 am starts, Henry was able to build a picture of the nocturnal activities of different rats.
He found the average distance a single rat moved in any one night is between 0.01 ha and 0.45ha, although he had seen one home range of at least 80 metres. Another Norway rat had a home range of less than 2 metres as it was always found either in or immediately next to a compost bin. He also noticed that most rats have overlapping home ranges.
Henry said the small home range made sense to him. “Given the fragmented urban landscape it would be hard to believe rats were able to maintain home ranges of the size they have in rural habitat which can be as large as 9.5 ha - I think if they did we would notice a lot more squashed rats on the roads!” Henry said.
Henry’s research will provide useful insights that we will integrate in our phase 2 eradication, in particular the need for tighter spacing of devices in urban habitats for control and detection of survivors. This could be potentially every 20-25 metres, or approximately every second house.
Have a listen of Henry’s interview with Alison Ballance, RNZ Our Changing World.
“The lessons being learned in the capital will strongly contribute to a methodology for creating other Predator Free cities - an important part of the bigger puzzle of a Predator Free New Zealand by 2050.“
Devon McLean, NEXT Foundation Environmental Advisor
Hundreds of Miramar residents responded to our call to pick up chew cards for their composts - this turns our team of 26 into a team of thousands!
Rongotai Isthmus - buffer zone and virtual barrier system installed to prevent rat reinvasion - 350 devices.
Results in from our monitoring – after putting out 8,000 monitoring points across the peninsula we have detected 58 rat chews (less than 1%). Also no Norway rats left, only Ship rats.
Next stage is zooming in on the micro habitats where we’re still seeing rat activity.
Taps & Traps event at Parrotdog - 60+ traps handed over from Predator Free Miramar to new Wellington trappers.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters visits our Miramar base.
Predator Free Wellington is famous in Germany - ‘Help for funny bird’.
The majority of bush and coastal zones show no rat activity. Camera monitoring begins in the bush zone.
No rat activity at the airport for over a month. We remove our infrastructure from the airport perimeter.
BBC Radio 4 podcast features Predator Free Lyall Bay as the UK looks to New Zealand as it considers a rat-free Britain.
Predator Free Schools featured exhibition at Zealandia Ecosanctuary.
No mustelids detected on the peninsula for the last 2+ months.
We’ve gone from tens of thousands of rats to tens of rats.
We’re still in lockdown, residents are checking our traps on their isolation walks and letting us know if they see any rat activity - community biosecurity in action!
Five metre waves hit Lyall Bay and Miramar Peninsula causing damage to our trapping network.
Residents are sharing photos of kārearea watching over our city streets.
Predator Free NZ Trust feature Predator Free Wellington in their webinar series.
Predator Free Wellington featured in RNZ’s Covid and conservation podcast.
Phase 2 ‘Island Bay to CBD’ planning begins.
Kākā and kākāriki spotted on the peninsula for the first time.
We’ve lost some ground on the peninsula eradication through lockdown, the team are rearing to get stuck in and finish the job as we move to level 2.
Undark magazine features Predator Free Wellington in their magazine - worth a read!
Volunteer trappers start managing biosecurity at the northern end of the peninsula.
Letter from Peter
We started our eradication on the Miramar Peninsula just over a year ago, in a world that was very different to the one we live in now. Since then it has been a huge year for all of us, and we are even more optimistic about the power of community to drive change.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the predator free mahi has proven to be not only good for the environment, but good for our communities, and good for the economy. The vision to bring nature back into our city has been a positive force in a time of challenge and hardship.
Miramar Peninsula was the testing ground for us. What we learned convinced us that we have the expertise and the right technical recipe for an urban eradication. At the core of our work is the idea that we can achieve anything when you get a critical mass of people moving in the same direction - every person can make a difference by being part of predator free.
Despite how much things have changed this year, that is still our most important driving principle. Miramar Peninsula worked because we had the whole community behind us, they were literally our eyes and ears on the ground letting us know what was happening, especially during lockdown when we had to leave the field for seven weeks.
From our work on the Miramar Peninsula, we now have a proof of concept for the rest of Wellington and potentially for the rest of the country, and we are ready to scale up. Our aim is to completely eradicate rats, possums, stoats and weasels from the entire Wellington Peninsula, a total area of 30,000 hectares, and in a city where around 212,000 people live.
Funding from the Government’s Jobs for Nature programme is helping us do this. We received a $7.6 million funding boost in September, which will generate 42 full time jobs across Wellington, and it means we can fast track our project to become the first predator free capital city in the world. A huge shout out for Predator 2050 Ltd for having the vision and agility to deliver us this momentum.
We acknowledge iwi as our foundation partner and are also hugely grateful for our foundation partners, NEXT Foundation, Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and Predator Free 2050 Limited. Along with the incredible financial support, they have provided integral technical and community expertise. Also a big thanks to all those other contributors who have provided peanut butter, depot accommodation, traps, paint for murals, and even some craft beer to help the task proceed!
We are always looking for additional partners to join our team, so if you want to contribute or invest, get in touch and get on board! We will collaborate to succeed.
The Whakataukī still stands:
Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi
With your basket and my basket the people will live
- Peter Chrisp, Chair, Predator Free Wellington Ltd